Top Story, Long-term Features

Tired of Feeling Targeted

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Heights has censored any obscenities and epithets. 

In the early hours of the morning on Jan. 30, residents of the women’s Multicultural Learning Experience (MLE) floor awoke to aggressive knocking on their doors and the sound of commotion in their hallway. 

Upon entering the third floor of Xavier Hall on Upper Campus, these students saw that decorations were torn off their doors, trash was spread along the hallway, and tiles were knocked out from their ceiling. Looking at the neighboring halls of Claver, Loyola, and Fenwick, they noticed that the vandalism was contained only to their hall.

MLE residents quickly began to wonder whether this incident was a targeted attack, and many were left feeling unsafe in their own living space. 

“Looking down the hallway and seeing that no one else’s floor was trashed, it was a little bit like ‘What’s going on? Why is it only our floor?’” Sierra Sinclair, a resident of the MLE floor and CSON ’24, said in an interview with The Heights. “Why do we have to always hear loud noises that interrupt our sleep? Why us?” 

The Boston College Police Department (BCPD) was able to identify the two individuals responsible for the vandalism. The perpetrators, who did not live in the building, are currently facing disciplinary sanctions for their behavior through the Office of Student Conduct according to an email obtained by The Heights sent to the Claver, Loyola, Xavier, and Fenwick (CLXF) community from ResLife on Jan. 31.

Corey Kelly, director of the Office of Student Conduct, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Just four days after the incident in Xavier, MLE residents reported that two male students had walked down their hallway singing a song about “colored girls.”

Residents of CLXF were notified of the first incident via an email obtained by The Heights sent from ResLife on Jan. 30, the same day the first incident took place. The rest of the BC community was notified about the incidents through an email sent by Executive Vice President and Acting Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Lochhead five days after the first incident.

“I hope all of us can learn from this incident, and realize the pain that can be caused by reckless behavior,” Lochhead said in the email. “No one at Boston College should ever be made to feel unsafe or threatened, particularly within the confines of their residence hall. This conduct will simply not be tolerated.”

When asked for comment, Lochhead directed The Heights to the statement in his email.

The Office of University Communications did not respond to a request for comment. 

Rev. Michael Davidson, S.J., director of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC), said that these incidents have left students of the MLE floor feeling jeopardized and disrespected in their own home. In order to alleviate this, BC needs to work more closely with non-AHANA+ students to make BC’s campus more inclusive, Davidson said.

“We need to stop teaching to the choir,” he said. “We need to have more robust diversity workshops for non-AHANA students.”

These incidents come just over two years after AHANA+ students at BC were threatened by a hate crime. On Dec. 9, 2018, Michael Sorkin, formerly CSOM ’21, defaced walls, blinds, and furniture in Welch Hall, covering them in racist epithets. Some of the graffiti read “n—–s are the plague.” 

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., never publicly responded to the hate crime, despite student pressure.

At a community gathering hosted by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College the following Wednesday, students asked why Leahy did not release a statement. 

Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn responded to student calls for Leahy to speak by stating that Vice President for Student Affairs Joy Moore and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley are responsible for reaching out to students and faculty, but that Leahy’s beliefs are reflected in their statements. 

Moore’s statement was released the same day as the Welch vandalism, asserting that acts of such hatred and racism will never be tolerated at BC. 

Quigley released his statement the following day, expressing how his outrage at the incident was heightened by the fact that 14 months earlier, on Oct. 13, 2017, Black Lives Matter signs were defaced in Roncalli Hall. A series of meetings between students and faculty ensued, leading to the creation of a mandatory student learning module on diversity and inclusion, along with a Student Experience Survey and commitments to hire more diverse faculty and increase the frequency of meetings with student leaders. 

“This disturbing incident early Sunday morning reminds us that we have much as a community still to do,” Quigley said. 

Despite recognizing the changes needing to be made, institutional reform has come at an unsatisfactory pace for many students. 

The murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in May of this year brought the long-standing pain of Black communities across the United States to national attention. His death brought renewed attention to countless other instances of police killings of Black individuals, from Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Tamir Rice to Philando Castile.

Although Floyd’s name and story was uniquely monumental in its impact, inspiring thousands of protests worldwide, Chinenye Ugocha, chair of UGBC’s AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC) and MCAS ’21, said that from her perspective, the incident was mere commonplace.

“For me, this wasn’t anything new,” Ugocha said. “This has been something that’s been happening forever in America. It’s just that now, it’s something that someone got on camera.”

Lubens Benjamin, CSOM ’23, said in an email to The Heights that Floyd’s death rekindled his passion for activism. Benjamin said that he participated in several anti-racism initiatives, including attending protests, advocating online, and donating to bail funds.

“We are called to do what we can to make our campus a place without bigotry or hate—a place with empathy,” Benjamin said. “I have encountered racism personally many times—some more traumatic than others. And when we see instances like we did this summer with George Floyd, we are forced to relive these traumas. You can’t help but think this could have been me or a loved one.”

Isabella Feliciano, CSOM ’23, recalled feeling powerless in the days following Floyd’s death, she said, in the face of such blatant racism and injustice.  

Feliciano—alongside Elena Shaker, Julia Warchol, and Maria Ibanez, all MCAS ’23—penned a letter to Boston College affiliates emphasizing that without a tangible response to the national tragedy of Floyd’s death, BC was failing to fulfill its mission statement to “bear on the needs of the social and political community.” They also released a petition, which they circulated on their social media and emailed to over 200 BC professors, Feliciano said. 

They hoped to push BC to do more than just release a statement full of empty promises, Feliciano said. Specifically, they called BC to donate to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Their petition garnered widespread support from students, with over 2,300 signatures at the time of publication. 

“It is evident that too often most sentiments expressed towards the mourning Black community end up being empty promises,” the letter reads. “We have failed our minority communities time and time again, and it is simply unacceptable to flounder again during this historic period. We, the students of Boston College, are calling upon you, our faculty and administration, for action.”

In an email response to the creators of the petition which was obtained by The Heights, Moore said that BC is unable to make donations to other non-profit organizations. She suggested that the students instead look into hosting a joint event with the NAACP on campus, of which BC could cover the costs once in-person gatherings are allowed. 

A day after the students’ petition—and eight days after Floyd’s murder—Leahy released a statement on June 2 that condemned “racial prejudice and profound injustice.”

His statement never said “Black Lives Matter.”

“We did our whole petition and letter before his first statement because he took awhile to come up with that statement, and when he did it was honestly disappointing,” Feliciano said. “I remember it not really addressing anything, and kind of just saying their sorries and basically taking no action.” 

Many other student groups also petitioned the University to commit to being actively anti-racist and offering more than just thoughts and prayers. 

“A lot of people weren’t happy about the statement that came out, and I was one of those people as well,” Benjamin said. “I just thought, ‘This is a time where we were ready to call for action.’”

One petition, which was organized by the Black Student Forum and eight other student organizations, also received over 2,000 signatures. Climate Justice at Boston College created a petition urging BC to divest from private prison companies, and the Young Democratic Socialists of BC petitioned for BC to fire BCPD Chief William Evans after BCPD officers were sent to crowd control a protest in Franklin Park on June 2. 

Following Leahy’s first statement, a solidarity statement was released on June 5 by Rev. Mark Massa, S.J., director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Rev. James Keenan, S.J., director of The Jesuit Institute, and Davidson. 

Leahy was not listed as having signed the statement.

On June 10, Leahy released a second statement, alongside Quigley, Moore, and John Butler, S.J., vice president for University Mission and Ministry. The letter marked Leahy’s first public endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement and also announced the establishment of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America. 

The forum was created to sponsor panels and events geared toward addressing racial issues at BC, Vincent Rougeau, dean of BC Law and inaugural director of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America, said.  

Rougeau said that once he was asked to lead the forum, he began to grapple with how the forum could best enact change and create spaces to engage with discussions about racism at BC.

“The announcement of it was a great, powerful, positive moment, but the big challenge was actually what can we do and when can we start,” Rougeau said. “Once we committed to doing it, my biggest challenge was organizing people across campus to get things done and organize what steps we were going to take to do this work together.”

On June 14, just four days after Leahy’s second statement was released, anonymous individuals created the @blackatbostoncollege account as a place for Black students to share their experiences of racism at BC. Since its launch, the page has posted 173 times and has gained 11,900 followers at the time of publication.

Many students and alumni began tagging the official @bostoncollege Instagram account in the comments of @blackatbostoncollege’s posts. Ten days after the account was launched, the BC account removed @blackatbostoncollege posts from its tagged posts. In response, @blackatbostoncollege released another post condemning this removal and calling out BC for silencing Black voices.

A statement posted on BC’s Instagram story on June 26 said that BC untagged itself because the @blackatbostoncollege posts were anonymous.

“As with all Instagram account holders, Boston College routinely untags ads, posts unrelated to BC, and posts with unattributed comments,” the statement read. “The @blackatbostoncollege account was temporarily untagged on Wednesday due to unattributed comments. A few hours later, after messaging with the @blackatbostoncollege account, we informed them that they could tag the BC account again. We hope this clarifies the situation for our followers.”

Ugocha viewed BC’s removal of the tagged posts as contradictory to the administration’s previous statements in support of minority groups, she said.

“You can’t in one post say you’re with the Black community … and then you’re censoring their voices,” Ugocha said. 

In order to amplify the voices behind this Instagram account, BC Libraries displayed around 130 @blackatbostoncollege posts in an exhibit in October.  

“A group of us at the libraries that had been working on equity, diversity, and inclusion issues for the libraries got together,” said Associate University Librarian for Public Services Scott Britton. “This is important. We want to do something to help the students. We want to do something with this Instagram account, the information in there, beyond just reposting or agreeing with the posts.”

While students and faculty of color were pushing BC to confront conversations about racial injustice on campus, Rougeau and the steering committee were also working towards the same aims.

The first decision Rougeau made was to begin building up the forum steering committee, which would consist of a cross-campus representation of faculty, administration, staff, and two students. This committee needed to spend time reflecting on the presence of racism on campus, thinking about how to move forward, and creating events where the broader BC community could have conversations about what it means to work toward racial justice, Rougeau said.

Led by Rougeau and the steering committee, the forum’s events during the fall semester aimed to push BC toward being an anti-racist institution, Rougeau said. 

Benjamin said he initially thought that the forum was going to be a disorganized, abstract organization for students to discuss racial injustice without any progress. He is now optimistic that the forum will result in positive change, such as changes to course curricula or policies, he said.

After attending several of the forum’s events, including the Solidarity Walk, however, Benjamin was disappointed to not see the level of participation and engagement from the entire student body that he had hoped for, he said.

“One thing about BC students is that they make a school full of activists,” he said. “So, you’ll have people who are environmentally active, people active combating racial injustice, and active with their own passions and fighting whatever injustice that they see around the world. So, I just really think we could’ve turned it up a notch coming back this semester.”

Students across the AHANA+ community have voiced frustration with disengagement from non-AHANA+ students, Rougeau said. Many of the same faces are seen at all of the forum’s events, most of whom belong to the AHANA+ community, he said.

Following reports of the series of racially-motivated incidents in Xavier Hall, Davidson visited the floor on Wednesday, Feb. 3, and held virtual meetings with the men’s and women’s MLE groups. His main intention, he said, was to listen to and affirm them, as well as to discuss with them next steps to make the MLE floor a place where transformations can take place.

A student who spoke to The Heights under the condition of anonymity said that opportunities to have these difficult conversations about race often exclude non-AHANA+ students who need to hear them most. Several members of the BC community have responded to last week’s racially motivated events, however, most responses have been geared towards MLE residents, which some believe puts a burden on AHANA+ students to drive change. 

“I know they had a town hall for students on the MLE floor, but it kind of just again felt like we were the only ones having these important conversations,” the student said in an interview with The Heights. “Like yeah, we get that [BC wants] to give us a safe space to voice our concerns, but then it’s like we’re only voicing our concerns, and what is actually changing?” 

Another anonymous student expressed frustration that victims often have to take responsibility to advocate for change. 

“It’s obviously retraumatizing us and taking away from our schoolwork and our focus,” the student said in an interview with The Heights. “ … It kind of feels like [BC is] trying to make it our job to figure out what we need to do when it’s really not our job.”

Although the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America was not initially created to be a first responder to racially-motivated incidents on campus, Rougeau noted that there was a strong sense of concern and a push for action after the events of the past week.

“Clearly there is a sense across the community that more needs to be done,” he said. “And that the same types of problems seem to be coming up over and over again, and a lot of the students of color clearly do not feel welcomed or safe.”

The forum’s meetings in the week after the incidents on the MLE floor have raised questions about whether or not there are enough appropriate avenues on campus for AHANA+ students to feel comfortable reporting racially-biased events, Rougeau said.

“The student conduct issues around following COVID protocols are taken very seriously, and I know students would like to see that issues involving racial bias and other biased incidents are treated with a similar level of seriousness,” Rougeau said.

Rougeau emphasized the importance of using academics to foster the formation of actively anti-racist students. The forum does not have any power to mandate academic units, but can strongly suggest that departments further integrate discussions and teachings on racial justice into their curriculum, Rougeau said.

Student life also must be utilized, Rougeau said. In the upcoming weeks, the forum is sponsoring a “Courageous Conversation” about the book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and working alongside the School of Social Work to screen a film about white nationalism and host an event about racial trauma, he said.

Additionally, the steering committee is working with ResLife and Student Affairs to integrate some of this programming into mandatory activities in residence halls or classes. 

He urges students in all schools and of all interests to create events focused on racial justice and sponsor them under the umbrella of the forum.

“They don’t need the forum’s permission, but we want the forum to be a catalyst to get people thinking, ‘Oh, what kind of event might we do that’s going to be exciting and appealing to people in the business school or on the athletic teams,’” Rougeau said.

With the aim of being a catalyst to get the BC community to advocate for racial justice within their sphere of expertise or interest, Rougeau said. For example, Laura Steinberg, executive director of the Schiller Institute and member of the forum steering committee, has devoted the first year of programming at the Schiller Institute to issues of environmental racism, he said. 

Ugocha said that she has been the victim of numerous racial incidents since her freshman year, and that despite awareness about these issues, the University has not changed.

“I’m sad to say that, after four years on campus, that I feel like it’s the same campus that I came to four years ago,” she said. 

Sasha Severino, ALC assistant director and MCAS ’21, and Ugocha met with Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Formation Tom Mogan to discuss small, incremental changes that can be made in order to begin creating an environment where AHANA+ students can feel welcome and comfortable, she said. She suggested that the University change the cultural diversity core, update the DiversityEdu module, and make events run by AHANA+ students mandatory for all students. 

Feliciano also emphasized the multitude of ways that her peers can advocate for racial justice and hopes that more students who are not part of the AHANA+ community will become involved.

“It’s the little things,” she said. “I feel like when people think of the word ‘advocacy,’ they’re thinking straight politically, but there’s so many ways to show advocacy and support for diversity and inclusion. Even just showing my support at different events, like I know the African Student Organization is having a fashion show and that’s really fun—I wish that more people would show up to things like that … it’s not out of everyone’s control.”

Despite these student-run efforts to implement small changes in the BC community, Ugocha said that it’s up to the administration to make fundamental changes.

“They need to implement more than just a forum,” she said. “This has to be structural change.”

Various BAIC programs have had great success in supporting students of color—including the Options Through Education program which has had a 97 percent success rate—but events such as the vandalism in Xavier hold students of color back, Davidson said.

When asked if the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer has altered his role as BAIC director, Davidson said that the intent of his role has not changed, but the importance of providing support to students of color has increased even more.

“It has not really changed,” Davidson said. “But what is important to me is that I have to love them a little bit more, listen to them a little more, and be present.”

Despite the strides made this year, such as BC acknowledging the harm created by structures of institutional racism, BC has a long way to go to change its culture, Ugocha said. 

Many members of the BC community agree that for BC to move toward being an actively anti-racist institution, a much wider array of students must push the University to protect and fight against injustice for its historically oppressed students.

Anti-racism events during the fall semester had a large turnout from the AHANA+ community, but Feliciano said she was disappointed that there wasn’t more attention and awareness from non-AHANA+ students.

Ugocha said that although the University has made attempts to open conversations regarding race, it still has not done enough.

“Students, they’re tired of just statements,” Ugocha said. “They want action.”

Photos by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor, MC Claverie / Heights Editor, Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor, Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor, and Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff and Courtesy of Chinenye Ugocha

Graphic by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor and Éamon Laughlin / Heights Editor

February 8, 2021